Most print businesses concern themselves with transforming virtual digital bits into tangible printed output. But there are other companies where the print comes first—whether it is an artist’s oil canvas or an architect’s blueprint—and a digital file is the final destination.
Wide format scanners help create new markets for fine art reproduction and enable print service providers (PSPs) to offer archival services for a range of clients seeking to preserve a digital original of a prized piece of art or important document. The challenge for PSPs is not only finding a scanner that’s wide enough to tackle the range of projects it’s likely to encounter, but one that captures the subtle nuances of painted work with accurate color. We spoke with three firms that each take a unique approach to wide format scanning and image capture.
While many businesses lay claim to excellence in the field of fine art reproductions, few are credited with its creation. Jack Duganne and David Coons, owners of Duganne Ateliers based Santa Monica, CA and ArtScans Studio, Inc. of Culver City, CA, respectively, helped pioneer what is now known as giclée printing. ArtScans tackles scanning, while Duganne Ateliers prints using a Hewlett-Packard (HP) Designjet Z3100 and Epson devices. The two firms often work together to provide artists with a scan-to-print solution, but are not exclusively tied to each other.
Working in uncharted waters where experimentation was the norm, Coons found that scanning technology at the time couldn’t deliver a faithful reproduction of an artist’s work. So he built his own device. Using a German milling table, a hand-selected CCD chip, custom lighting, and software written himself, Coons designed the scanner that would digitize artwork for preservation.
Previous alternatives weren’t designed for fine art but for graphics, with low-color rendering indexes and fluorescent lights. “Our scanner exposes millions of pixels at once, so we don’t have to harshly light the work.” Light reflection, explains Coons, is one of the principle challenges in scanning.
“What we’re after is a color metric of the original art that represents the way the human eye measures color—similar to a spectrophotometer,” he comments. Current RGB-based technology averages colors together based on pixel proximity and complex mathematical formulas. “It’s hard to capture color that way. Printing companies always complain that they’re correcting color that isn’t captured correctly. Proofing is so systemic and infused in our industry that people don’t think there’s any other way to do it,” continues Coons.
At ArtScans the goal is fanatical color management. “We’re calibrated tightly. Every scan file has an ICC profile embedded so printers such as Duganne Ateliers can produce a repeatable result.”
“What we hope to do is define a standard,” adds Coons. “If you’re an artist and took a watercolor or oil painting to different printers you’d get a new result because they’re not targeting toward a standard.”
Faithfully reproducing the original piece is not always the end goal, says Duganne. Artists not only want an exact recreation of their original—they want the ability to change the work after the fact. “There’s not an artist alive that doesn’t want to expand the limits of the medium and with digital they get an opportunity to push the envelope and move into a new color space or make changes in design software to get a slightly different look,” he shares.
“Part of the job description of a fine art printer or scanner is to work in a collaborative fashion and let artists know the possibilities of the digital tools,” says Coons.
Even if changes are made to the work after the fact, an accurate scan and understanding about the transformation that occurs is required. “Sometimes artists are infuriated after the first proof so you need to explain that you’re going from 16.3 million to 65,000 colors. Compromises have to be made,” observes Duganne.
So what’s next for these digital pioneers? Though wide format scanners have come a long way, Coons is hard at work on a second generation custom scanner, absorbing the lessons learned from years in the field with the current model. One change will be size. The current scanner is 50x48 inches and the newer one will be 60x96 inches.
The new model will focus on faithfully reproducing colors that currently befuddle modern scanners. “Some colors, like fluorescents, are dumbed down and lose their vitality in the scanning progress by ultraviolet filters. The goal is to achieve the same results as if you were taking a spectro to the painting one pixel at a time, but in a faster fashion,” concludes Coons.
Fine Art Takes Flight at Parrot
John Larusso, president, Parrot Digigraphic, Ltd. also has a claim on being present at the creation of the fine art market. As one of the co-founders of Colorgen Ltd., Larusso helped pioneer technology for spectrometric matching of paints and other surfaces. As part of Colorgen’s consulting work, Larusso worked with Scitex and its Iris Graphics division. “I came to the conclusion that there was a market for on demand printing in fine art if the right substrates and inks were developed to provide a low cost of entry and on demand capability,” says Larusso.
In 1996 Parrot was founded. While they initially used Iris and Scitex technologies, Larusso also sought a solution that could create a first generation digital file. He eventually discovered Cruse Digital Imaging Equipment’s scanners.
Larusso was attracted to the Cruse for its fixed camera and lighting. Artwork is placed on a bed that moves beneath the scanning element for constant lighting. At 48x72 inches, the scanner is large enough to handle many printed works but it can also tackle three dimensional scanning of thicker objects due to its depth of field.
“It uses non-contact scanning so curators and museum people love that. This allows us to take a glossy surface with a varnish and accurately scan that piece without the glare artifacts that are typical with other scanning technologies,” notes Larusso. A common scanner uses cross-polarization to eliminate glare, but doing so lowers the scanner’s ability to resolve detail.
Parrot offers a variety of output options for artists using wide format inkjet printers from both HP and Epson. Media is sourced from a variety of companies and Parrot works with international suppliers on its own line of fine art media.
While canvas and matte papers are popular, other options are available, including fabrics and even DuPont Tyvek. “We have a lot of products qualified for archival purposes,” explains Larusso.
Some artists simply seek scanning only to preserve original works against eventual degradation. Others want to scan work to preserve an unaltered original file but use Parrot’s services to create unique limited editions with different brush strokes or additional colors—either applied using design software or after the fact with the artist’s paints and brushes. Such embellishments enhance the value of the limited editions as they provide a unique characteristic—similar, but not identical to the original.
A benchmark of color management experience is also key to Parrot’s success. The firm’s technical director is an adjunct professor and has written four books. Color management is executed rigorously at the company. The end result is that cost-effective soft proofing options are often used instead of generating proof prints.